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Paris: Social Sciences—Critical Theory

Instructor(s): Kaushik Sunder Rajan and Lisa Wedeen
Winter 2022

The College’s new Contemporary Critical Theory study abroad sequence in Paris is offered in partnership with 3CT. Applications are now open: the early deadline is Friday, April 23, 2021; the final deadline is Friday, October 22, 2021.

The Critical Theory program’s courses explore some prevailing themes in contemporary critical theory. Although the term “critical theory” is sometimes associated narrowly with the Frankfurt School, this set of seminars will approach the topic more broadly, putting race and gender, as well as class, at the center of analysis.

The thematic focus in Winter 2022 will be on capitalism, empire, and ideology, with an emphasis on the dialectical relationships between structure and agency, efforts to diagnose current impasses to human flourishing, and the range of possibilities and impediments to emancipatory politics in the present. Students will learn how to engage in immanent critique, to identify generative tensions in authors’ arguments, and to understand current debates in terms of historical antecedents and ruptures.

Independent reading and class discussions will be complemented by a series of visiting speakers and group excursions.

Topics in Contemporary Critical Theory 1
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

This class considers the question of capital, historically, comparatively and conceptually. What is capital? How is it related to value? How is it different from money? How does it work to organize social relations? In what forms, and through what institutional structures, does it materialize? How does it reflect in modes and relations of production? How is it governed, and what is its relation to the political?

This course will enter into such questions, in the first instance, through a reading of Karl Marx. It will subsequently traverse a heterodox genealogy of Marxist social thought (with some emphasis on French theorists), in order to understand how a method of analysis developed to come to terms with nineteenth century European industrial capitalism might help us understand contemporary worlds of extraction, logistics and finance in comparative perspective. We will consider how capital is racialized and gendered, how it has expanded and mutated across place and over time, and what it means that we live in a time today when it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

Topics in Contemporary Critical Theory 2
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences in the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory, and Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

This course investigates the central place of empires in the shaping of the modern world and understands critical theory as inextricable from its colonial context. We will read authors including Montaigne, Diderot, Tocqueville, Du Bois, Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire, Fanon, Foucault, Said, and Trouillot, as well as contemporary theorists including Luce Irigaray, Achille Mbembe, David Scott, Françoise Vergès, and Joan Scott; we will pay particular but not exclusive attention to the context of French imperialism and to Paris as a site of theorizing, and critique of, the imperial global order.

Topics in Contemporary Critical Theory 3
Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

This course examines selections from the vast literature on ideology—with attention to the political commitments and intellectual genealogies that have made the concept both important and vexed. The bulk of the course will entail examining ideology’s relationship to material practice, the notion of interpellation, the usefulness of “hegemony,” and the problems associated with false consciousness. We shall also analyze ideology’s connection to prevailing theoretical and empirical concerns, such as those related to “subject” formation, affect, new developments in capitalism, the resurgence of populism, and the dynamics associated with contemporary “democratic” liberal, as well as authoritarian, political orders.